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All-candidates’ meeting in Chilliwack-Hope cancelled after vaccination kerfuffle

PPC candidate barred by health officials from event because of his unvaccinated status
Chilliwack-Hope federal election candidates, top row left to right, Mark Strahl (Conservative), Kelly Velonis (Liberal), DJ Pohl (NDP), bottom row left to right, Arthur Green (Green Party), and Rob Bogunovic (People’s Party of Canada). (Submitted)

Issues over vaccination status of one candidate has led to the cancellation of the Sept. 14 all-candidates’ meeting organized by the Chilliwack Arts & Cultural Centre Society in the riding of Chilliwack-Hope.

The decision was made by organizers after candidate Rob Bogunovic, running for the People’s Party of Canada (PPC), was notified last week he would only be allowed to participate in Tuesday’s debate virtually.

Fraser Health officials had barred Bogunovic from attending the event in person, citing his unvaccinated status, according to Timothy Knight, acting CEO, Fraser Valley PPC Electoral District Association.

“While I have received no official communication from Fraser Health regarding Rob’s physical expulsion from the debate, their explanation to him is that the debate is not an ‘essential’ service, and therefore, he may not physically attend,” Knight said in a release. PPC officials claimed it is illegal to have done so.

Conservative candidate Mark Strahl responded with a statement Monday arguing all candidates should be treated equally.

“In my view, allowing some candidates but not others, and allowing some voters but not others, to physically attend an all- candidates debate during an election campaign is unacceptable,” Strahl said. “All candidates and all voters should be offered the same opportunity to participate in the democratic process with everyone either appearing virtually or everyone being allowed to appear in person.”

Strahl commented before the cancellation, that while he’s “eligible” meaning vaccinated to appear in person, he will only do so if all candidates running can “appear on the same platform.”

“I would suggest the easiest way to achieve this is to hold a 100 per cent virtual forum, using a similar format that all other local debates in this campaign have used.”

The team for Kelly Velonis, Liberal candidate for Chilliwack-Hope, weighed in as well before the event was cancelled.

“I fully support the decision of Fraser Health to require that all attendees at Tuesday’s Cultural Centre political debate provide proof of vaccination and comply with provincial health guidelines,” Velonis said.

Any request for special privileges or exceptions is “outrageous,” she noted.

“Chilliwack and Hope voters are smart. They know who kept them safe during the pandemic and can see through Mr. Bogunovic’s political moves aimed at further agitating his base,” Velonis said.

“Voters are witnessing in real time what leadership under the People’s Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada will look like. Mark Strahl and Erin O’Toole refuse to disclose which of their Conservative candidates have been vaccinated.

“Despite repeated requests they also refuse to require that Conservative candidates become vaccinated,” she said. “They claim to be the party of family values yet are willing to risk the lives Canadian children (who can’t be vaccinated) by not taking a strong position.

“If Mr. O’Toole can’t keep his party in line, how can Canadians place their trust in him to lead our country? Under Liberal leadership, more than 63 million vaccine doses have been delivered, 76 per cent of Canadians are fully vaccinated and 84 have received at least one dose.”

After Strahl’s statement Monday, the cultural centre society’s board of directors had a meeting and decided to cancel the event.

For NDP candidate DJ Pohl the cancellation is a loss for democracy.

“Debates are an essential part of democracy,” Pohl said in a statement. “This must also never compromise one’s safety.”

She said she was “profoundly disappointed” for voters.

“This is a direct result of a refusal to abide by health orders by Rob Bugunovic, his threat of legal action, and incumbent (candidate) Mark Strahl supporting the stance and perpetuating the narrative,” Pohl said.

It’s a narrative not reflective of the leadership Chilliwack-Hope deserves, and that left the organizers no chance for success in the event.

“While I remain disheartened by the fact this debate will not be occurring, I support the organizers decision to put the health and safety of all involved first. Chilliwack-Hope deserves better, I am committed to fighting for change, protecting the health and safety of our community as well as democracy.

“I will ensure all voices are heard and no one is left behind,” Pohl concluded.

“If you are an undecided voter who was hoping to get answers from the debate, please reach out to the campaigns directly to ensure your questions are asked and tune in tonight for the virtual chamber of commerce debate.”

RELATED: Tuesday event announced at Cultural Centre

RELATED: Monday event is virtual

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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